Their names were Marta and Joe. They were born in Poland before 1920 and met in the U.S. while still very young. According to Marta, they’d been married forever.
I met them in 1979 when they showed up at the LA office of a literary agent I worked at during my summer vacations in college. Marta was hoping to find an agent for a book of poems she’d written. It was about her heart, her husband, her sons and her gratitude — the buckets of wonder she could wring from a single ray of sunlight.
That sunlight meant a lot, because Marta was supposed to be deep down in the dark. She had been ill for most of her adult life with a heart condition that doctors said would kill her before she grew old. They also said she should never have children. But she defied the doctors and the odds, acing pregnancy with the birth of a healthy son. One day, she decided she would write a poem
about the pure joy of hearing her boy cry for the first time.
Soon after, Martha aced another pregnancy and gave birth to another healthy son. Joe stood by her through it all, doting and protective. Joe, who had survived a pogrom and seen someone killed right in front of him, found himself partnered for life with a woman whose experience with death was different yet just as real, and far more personal.
The couple was in their late sixties the day I met them, and they proceeded to “adopt” me: this apple-cheeked college kid from the Midwest. One Friday, they drove from their home in the California desert to pick me up for the weekend. Settled in for the evening, Marta begged Joe to sing for us. The song he eventually sang was a torch song about the agonies of lost love called, “I’ve Got to Pass Your House to Get to My House.”
That was a weekend filled with white wine, delicious food and talk, lots of talk. They both had so much to say; every other word wore a fresh coat of grace.